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The Theory of the Leisure Class (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics) Paperback – February 1, 1994

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"In his first and most fascinating book, Veblen was mocking a process as old as civilization. He expressed his skepticism in a rough-hewn prose style which made him the most impressive American satirist of his day."

 —Time

 "Every brash, upcoming generation should discover Veblen, and most complacent adults need to rediscover him."

 —The Minneapolis Tribune

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Inside Flap

Almost a century after its original publication, Thorstein Veblen's work is as fresh and relevant as ever. Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class is in the tradition of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan, yet it provides a surprisingly contemporary look at American economics and society. Establishing such terms as "conspicuous consumption" and "pecuniary emulation," Veblen's most famous work has become an archetype not only of economic theory, but of historical and sociological thought as well. As sociologist Alan Wolfe writes in his Introduction, Veblen "skillfully . . . wrote a book that will be read so long as the rich are different from the rest of us; which, if the future is anything like the past, they always will be." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (February 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140187952
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140187953
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #160,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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75 of 79 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 24, 1998
Format: Paperback
It's true to say that Veblen's book is one of the great classics of economic theory; however, such a description suggests (at least to non-economists like myself) that the book will be either dull or remorselessly technical. On the contrary, "The Theory of the Leisure Class" is stylishly written, endlessly startling (for example, Veblen analyses religion as an outgrowth of the gambling instinct), and very, very funny. Its expose of "conspicuous consumption" (yes, Veblen was the one who invented this famous concept) is as relevant today as it was in 1899, if not more so. Whether or not you agree with all that he says, it's thought-provoking and exciting stuff.
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56 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Luciano Lupini on June 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
This opus by Veblen exposes the real meaning of the pecuniary advancement of the working and merchant classes, and the formation of elites based mostly upon money and asset valuation. The transfiguration of the traditional social and individual ethical values that this phenomenon produced, is portraited with clarity and sarcastic intelligence by the author in the book, first published in 1899.
Now a classic of economic theory, as well as a text book of social science, it describes the tendencies of consumerism, leisure and the "materialization" of the ideals of the aspiring new princes (or noveau rich) of society. Veblen's vibrant satire of the tendency of the modern individual to believe that real accomplishment is all about aquiring a condition of ostentatious wealth and status, and his analisis of the inception of modern class structure in America, still stand, a century after, as recommended reading for historians and economists.
If you are a fervent follower of advertisement, fashion, "glamour" and other modern expressions of consumerism , then you will find a surprisingly fresh portrait of yourself in this book. It worries me that the leisure class and its shallow views and values as described by Veblen, may still today represent elites in America and their religion, as analyzed by professor Lash in his last book "The Revolt of the Elites". I highly recommend Veblen's best book, to scholars and sociologists at large.
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26 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Tanja M. Laden on December 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
Known by his contemporaries as the only social theorist to apply Darwin critically, in 1899 Thorstein Veblen published The Theory of the Leisure Class: A Economic Study of Institutions, which was to become the basis from which all further American leisure history and theory stemmed. In his study, Veblen is primarily concerned with the "new rich," whom he regards as social parasites that retard the growth of modern life. Thorstein Veblen wrote The Theory of the Leisure Class from a perspective that was largely isolated from his own culture, which either aided in his understanding of the Leisure Class or perhaps negatively influenced his opinions due to his exclusion from it. In The Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen essentially confines man and woman's existence on the planet as a struggle to change and adapt with the growth of their communities. Through this belief, Veblen develops a theme that amounts to the idea of a certain "dominant" type of individual. This individual develops a social structure through dominance in which social advance is sought by others. She/he will feel the discrepancy between the modern life and traditional life during the process. Though Veblen's rhetoric is sometimes anxious, sometimes negative, he actively pursues a specific account of the origins of the Leisure Class through individuals. The struggle for individual advancement eventually expands to include society, and the more individual struggle for advancement in society leads to the accumulation of surplus goods.
Surplus of conspicuous consumption by the Leisure Class gives the class license to indulge shamefully in pure conspicuous consumption, where their occupations eventually become leisure itself.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Eigenvalue on June 7, 2008
Format: Paperback
The basic premise of this book is that modern humans have inherited an instinct to compete with each other for material resources. This competition takes place within the context of a small groups that share the spoils of the competition amongst themselves. (Other primates essentially do the same thing). The theory hinges on the question of what happens when a group of people have access to essentially unlimited resources, but still have the competitive urge. Veblen's answer is that they simply compete amongst themselves to see who can afford to be the most wasteful (like the scene in that Woody Allen movie in which two guys start ripping up dollar bills to impress each other). He refers to such waste as "conspicuous consumption".

According to Veblen, the urge to consume conspicuously explains a lot of human behavior, including fashion, sports, and religion. In all cases the consumer wants to demonstrate to his peers that he can't possibly be involved in doing anything useful. A particularly funny consequence of the urge to consume is the notion of "vicarious consumption," in which really rich people acquire other people (essentially servants and wives) to do their consuming for them. To emphasize the point they dress up their vicarious consumers in preposterous outfits and require them to perform pointless tasks with high precision (think of a butler in a tuxedo serving a 12-course meal or some such).

In this vein, anthropomorphic religions essentially worship the richest guy of all. God is imagined to be so rich that he sits on a throne all day while people in silly clothes (clergy) do nothing but tend to his fabulous mansions (churches).
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